The latest lesser prairie-chicken survey shows bird populations are up from last year, continuing an upward trend over the last few years. The survey indicates an estimated breeding population of 38,637 birds this year, compared to 29,934 birds counted last year.
“This approximately 30% annual increase is good news, but we know that year-to-year fluctuations are the norm with upland birds like the lesser prairie-chicken,” said Roger Wolfe, WAFWA’s Lesser Prairie-chicken Program Manager. “The most encouraging result from the survey is the steadily increasing population trend over the last six years, which likely reflects improving habitat conditions.”
Lesser prairie-chickens can be found in four ecoregions in five states: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. Wildlife biologists note prairie chicken numbers regularly fluctuate up and down from year to year due to changes in habitat conditions mainly influenced by weather patterns. More favorable weather patterns this past year contributed to apparent increases in three of four ecoregions where the birds are found. There is concern that moderate to severe drought over portions of the lesser prairie-chicken range this year may lead to a down turn in the population next year.
The shinnery oak ecoregion of eastern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle saw the biggest annual increase in birds, followed by the sand sagebrush ecoregion of southeast Colorado and southwest Kansas. The shortgrass ecoregion which covers northwest Kansas also registered an annual increase in the number of breeding birds. The estimated number of birds in the mixed-grass ecoregion spanning the northeast Panhandle of Texas, northwest Oklahoma and south-central Kansas is similar to last year’s estimate.
The annual population surveys are conducted as part of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Plan, a collaborative effort of WAFWA and state wildlife agencies of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. It was developed to ensure long-term viability of the lesser prairie-chicken through voluntary cooperation by landowners and industry. The plan allows industry to continue operations while reducing and mitigating impacts to the bird and its grassland habitat. Industry contributions support conservation actions implemented by participating private landowners. To date, industry partners have committed more than $64 million in enrollment and mitigation fees to pay for conservation actions, and landowners across the range have agreed to conserve more than 150,000 acres of habitat through 10-year and permanent conservation agreements.
“We’re encouraged by this year’s numbers but are mindful that successful conservation of the lesser prairie-chicken will require decades of consistent progress,” said J.D. Strong, Director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and Chairman of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative Council. “The continued success of the range-wide plan depends on ongoing participation by industry partners, and we are grateful for the support shown thus far. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be making another ruling on the status of the lesser prairie-chicken later this year, and industry support of the plan is more important than ever. At such a critical juncture in the conservation of this important but imperiled prairie grouse, we encourage industry to contact us and get involved."
For more information about the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan, contact Roger Wolfe at firstname.lastname@example.org
WAFWA news releases available at www.wafwa.org/news/
Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan can be found HERE
Photo Credit: Grant Beauprez
Since 1922, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) has advanced conservation in western North America. Representing 24 western states and Canadian provinces, WAFWA’s reach encompasses more than 40 percent of North America, including two-thirds of the United States. Drawing on the knowledge of scientists across the West, WAFWA is recognized as the expert source for information and analysis about western wildlife. WAFWA supports sound resource management and building partnerships at all levels to conserve wildlife for the use and benefit of all citizens, now and in the future.
The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) has released a new report that provides a comprehensive assessment of fire and invasive management options for the conservation of sagebrush in the western United States. The report was produced by a multi-agency Wildfire and Invasive Species Working Group and updates a gap analysis report published five years ago. It includes an overview of remaining work to be accomplished, with recommendations for actions to improve the conservation and management of the sagebrush biome.
The report is titled “Wildfire and Invasive Plant Species in the Sagebrush Biome: Challenges that Hinder Current and Future Management and Protection – A Gap Report Update.” It builds on work published in 2013 that summarized the policy, fiscal, and science challenges that land managers have encountered in conserving sagebrush, especially regarding control and reduction of the invasive annual grass/fire cycle.
“This Gap Report Update is the latest addition to the list of products developed by the multi-agency working group that are designed to help identify the conservation challenges, or gaps, associated with the fire and invasive threat to sagebrush and offer ideas to address those challenges,” said Ken Mayer, WAFWA consultant and chairman of the working group. “The Gap Report Update identifies the five top challenges that need focused attention to address the pervasive invasive annual grass driven wildfire cycle that has gripped the western rangelands.”
Researchers documented that the number one conservation issue facing the western sagebrush rangelands is the lack of program capacity and necessary structure for invasive plant management at all levels of government. Specifically, the report states that the severely limited capacity for invasive plant prevention, early detection and rapid response to control and manage invasive plants, along with regulatory activities and associated native plant restoration operations, is directly tied to the lack of common conservation priorities and consistent long-term dedicated funding for invasive plant management programs. The report identified five top priority gaps and 17 areas of concern that will help all agencies and organizations working on sagebrush conservation to better focus on the major challenges.
“The Gap Report Update has something for every level, public and private, to consider helping address the fire and invasive threat,” said Virgil Moore, Director of Idaho Department of Fish and Game and director liaison of WAFWA’s Sagebrush Initiative. “We encourage the leaders of the agencies and organizations working on sagebrush conservation to review the recommendations in the report and determine if there are actions they can take directly to address the gaps. It will take a broad-based coalition working together to ensure healthy sagebrush ecosystems are available for generations to come.”
Since its creation in 2013, WAFWA’s Wildfire and Invasive Species Working Group has been working to identify fire and invasive management problems and develop tools and approaches that managers can use to address these pervasive issues. The initial gap report produced five years ago informed the 2015 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species Act status review of the greater sage-grouse.
In 2015, citing unprecedented landscape-scale conservation efforts, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that greater sage-grouse did not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. The collaborative, science-based greater sage-grouse conservation effort, in which WAFWA plays a key role, is the largest land conservation effort in U.S. history.
New report available here: Wildfire and Invasive Plant Species in the Sagebrush Biome: Challenges that Hinder Current and Future Management and Protection – A Gap Report Update
WAFWA news releases available at http://www.wafwa.org/news/
Media Contact: Ken Mayer, 775.741.0098, email@example.com
Photo Credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service, Wyoming Game and Fish Department
The Western Native Trout Initiative (WNTI) and its partners are once again offering opportunities for community organizations to tap into dollars to protect, restore or recover western native trout in the rivers, lakes and watersheds where they are found. The 2018 Small Grants Program Request for Proposals (RFP) will be accepting applications until June 15, 2018.
The program specifically funds innovative projects that “jump start” or complete smaller, high-impact efforts. Projects considered for funding under the Small Grants Program may include riparian or instream habitat restoration, barrier removal or construction, population or watershed assessments needed for prioritization and planning, water leases or acquisitions to improve in-stream flows, and native trout-focused community outreach and education. Individual projects can be funded at a maximum of $3,000.
“These $3,000 grant awards may be a relatively small dollar figure, but they are having a big impact,” said Therese Thompson, WNTI Coordinator. “Over six previous years of funding, this grant program has consistently catalyzed some of the most innovative community-based projects that are making a difference for native trout conservation across the western U.S.”
The 2018 Small Grants Program is supported by generous donations from project partners at Running Rivers, RepYourWater, and Basin+Bend and contributions from numerous individual donors. The full RFP can be found here.
WNTI is a program of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and a recognized National Fish Habitat Partnership that works to cooperatively restore and recover 21 western native trout and char species and sub-species across their historic range. The program funds efforts that raise awareness of the importance of native trout and focus limited financial and human resources toward the highest-impact, locally-led, on-the-ground projects. Since its inception in 2006, WNTI has directed over $5 million in federal fish habitat funds leveraged with an additional $23 million public and private matching dollars for 139 priority native trout conservation projects. With the collaboration and coordination of WNTI Partners, 87 barriers to fish passage have been removed, 1,130 miles of native trout habitat have been reconnected or improved, and 30 protective fish barriers to conserve important native trout conservation populations have been put in place.
Therese Thompson, 303.236.4402, firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo Credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife
For more information about the Small Grants Program, visit www.westernnativetrout.org
Since 1922, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) has advanced conservation in western North America. Representing 23 western states and Canadian provinces, WAFWA’s reach encompasses more than 40 percent of North America, including two-thirds of the United States. Drawing on the knowledge of scientists across the West, WAFWA is recognized as the expert source for information and analysis about western wildlife. WAFWA supports sound resource management and building partnerships at all levels to conserve wildlife for the use and benefit of all citizens, now and in the future.
On March 30, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service its fourth annual report detailing achievements under the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan. Among other accomplishments, WAFWA reported on the permanent conservation of land in three ecoregions, including a stronghold that was created with the placement of a conservation easement on a nearly 30,000-acre ranch in Kansas. In addition, the population of the bird is trending upward, a promising sign.
“We’re in this for the long haul and we’re just four years in at this point,” said J.D. Strong, Director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and Chairman of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative Council. “We’re pleased at the progress that has been made thus far. The population trend is encouraging, as is the continued support of all of our partners who are participating in the range-wide plan.”
The range-wide plan is a collaborative effort of the state wildlife agencies of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado as well as other private and public partners involved in lesser prairie-chicken conservation. It was developed to enhance lesser prairie-chicken conservation by refocusing existing efforts and also established a new mitigation framework, administered by WAFWA, to encourage greater voluntary cooperation of landowners and industry participants. This plan allows industry participants to continue operations while restoring and maintaining habitat and reducing development impacts to the bird and its habitat.
The plan was endorsed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2013, and as part of the conservation effort, the states agreed to report annually on the overall progress of the plan. Findings for 2017 include:
Lesser prairie-chicken population stable, trending up
The annual lesser prairie-chicken aerial survey used to monitor populations was conducted from March through May 2017. The breeding population was estimated at 33,269 birds in 2017 which was up 34% from the previous year. There has been a statistically significant increasing trend in the range-wide lesser prairie-chicken breeding population since 2013 when drought subsided across much of their range. The average rate of annual increase since that time has been 2,931 birds.
Permanent conservation efforts on private land are bolstered in 2017
During this reporting period, WAFWA secured permanent conservation in three ecoregions by finalizing agreements with five landowners. One site consists of 968 acres of privately owned native rangeland in the mixed-grass ecoregion in south central Kansas. WAFWA purchased a perpetual easement, held by Pheasants Forever, that protects the conservation values of the site. This property is adjacent to a property WAFWA has already permanently conserved, bringing the complex total to 2,726 acres.
In September 2017, permanent conservation easements were finalized with three different landowners to secure a complex of 3,682 acres in the shortgrass ecoregion in northwest Kansas. The Nature Conservancy holds these easements.
WAFWA acquired the title to a 29,718-acre Kansas ranch in the sand sagebrush ecoregion in 2016, and in March 2017, a conservation easement held by The Nature Conservancy was placed on the ranch. The property meets all the criteria to be considered a stronghold, which is defined as a large area of high-quality habitat that can sustain a population into the future. WAFWA will continue to manage the property as a working cattle ranch.
Private land lease agreements enhance conservation efforts
In March 2017, a new 10-year term agreement was signed with a landowner in the mixed-grass ecoregion on 12,738 acres in southern Kansas. An additional 10-year agreement was signed with another landowner on a 160-acre inholding within the larger tract. Both properties are grazed and managed as one unit.
NFWF grant enhances lesser prairie-chicken habitat
During 2017, WAFWA provided $153,945 in funding to a private landowner in the shinnery oak ecoregion in the Texas Panhandle for mechanical removal of invasive mesquite. The funding for that agreement was provided by a ConocoPhillips Spirit of Conservation Grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The agreement prescribed 933 acres of brush management in a high priority area that is immediately adjacent to a property that is occupied by the species and permanently conserved. All the restoration work prescribed through this agreement was completed prior to the end of this reporting period and lesser prairie-chicken are expected to quickly benefit from the new habitat.
Industry projects mitigated
In 2017, there were 169 industry projects processed and mitigated. These projects required $1,426,961.45 in mitigation fees. There continues to be a substantial surplus of credits available. In 2017, participant companies reduced impacts on lesser prairie-chicken habitat by voluntarily siting 74% of new development with pre-existing development and by siting most new developments in areas that have poor or marginal habitat quality. These siting decisions also significantly reduced the amount of mitigation fees required to offset the new development.
Cooperative efforts enhancing conservation
A two-year renewable agreement with Pheasants Forever was extended for the second year of the agreement to partially fund five positions located throughout the lesser prairie-chicken’s range. This is a cooperative effort between the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Pheasants Forever and WAFWA. The supported positions will assist all the partnering entities with program promotion, monitoring activities, and conservation planning. In addition, a video highlighting the WAFWA lesser prairie-chicken program was produced and can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TI4M_uPgqlM
Contact: Roger Wolfe, 785.256.3737
Photo Credit: Kansas Department of Wildlife Parks and Tourism
Full details are in the annual report, which will be available on the WAFWA website at www.wafwa.org
Aerial surveys will begin March 16 and run through mid-May in five states containing lesser prairie-chicken habitat. The surveys are conducted annually by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) to document population trends and how the bird is responding to management strategies identified in the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan.
The range-wide plan is a collaborative effort of WAFWA and the state wildlife agencies of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. It was developed to ensure conservation of the lesser prairie-chicken with voluntary cooperation of landowners and industry. The plan allows agriculture producers and industry to continue operations while reducing impacts to the bird and its grassland habitat.
“This survey is critical to provide annual estimates of the lesser prairie-chicken population across the five states,” explained Roger Wolfe, WAFWA’s Lesser Prairie-chicken Program Manager. “These population estimates help guide decisions related to conservation efforts targeting lesser prairie-chickens and their habitat.”
The surveys will be conducted by helicopter in locations chosen randomly within lesser prairie-chicken range, which is part of the methodology strategy. In previous years, some of the fly paths prompted calls, which is why WAFWA is providing notification about the start of aerial survey work.
Preliminary results from this year’s surveys will be available on July 1.
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